Congressional candidates talk real estate and construction at symposium: 3 takeaways

Pictured, from left, are Rep. Lloyd Smucker, George Scott, Rep. Scott Perry and Jess King. Scott is challenging Perry and King is challenging Smucker in this fall's general election. - (Photo / File)

The four candidates running for Pennsylvania’s 10th and 11th congressional districts were in Derry Township on Wednesday as part of a panel discussion hosted by the Business Journal.

The 50-minute panel, which was part of the Business Journal’s annual Real Estate & Development Symposium and moderated by editor Joel Berg, focused on questions about federal infrastructure spending, affordable housing, eminent domain and the impact of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes on the economy.

The 10th Congressional District race features Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from York County, and Democratic challenger George Scott. In the 11th Congressional District, the race is between Rep. Lloyd Smucker, a Republican from Lancaster County, and Democratic challenger Jess King.

Here are a few takeaways from the candidate forum:

1. On federal infrastructure spending, a key campaign promise from President Trump, each of the four candidates said infrastructure is a bipartisan issue that they hope will gain more traction. However, funding is the biggest hurdle in advancing a plan.

In a big midterm election year, Smucker and Perry also said they don’t see a infrastructure plan advancing ahead of the November election.

Trump’s $1.5 trillion, 10-year public-private plan, called for about $200 billion in new federal spending, with $1.3 trillion expected to come from state and local governments and the private sector. The president also wants to create a streamlined approach for project reviews to reduce the time it takes to get through federal agency approvals.

When asked how they would like to see the federal government pay for increased infrastructure spending, the Democratic challengers said they would like to see more traditional public funding where the federal government covers the bulk of the investments. The Republican incumbents focused on government reforms, including prevailing wage and permitting changes, as ways to cut costs and giving states more control.

Following those reforms, Smucker said he would support increased fuel taxes, as well as other user fee options such as toll roads and freight taxes, to boost revenue for infrastructure projects. 

2. On affordable housing, or housing that does not consume more than 30 percent of a household’s budget, the candidates were asked about how the federal government could encourage investment in affordable housing projects.

Perry focused on regulation reductions to reduce time and costs associated with development. He also cited a need to reform property taxes, a perennial debate in local and state government.

King said federal low-income housing tax credits should be expanded to help support more affordable housing projects. She also called for raising the minimum wage to improve wages so more people might be able to afford new housing options and zoning reforms to allow for higher density developments.

Smucker touted the new $1.5 billion Opportunity Zone program, introduced as part of last year’s federal tax overhaul. The program aims to give investors tax breaks on federal capital gains taxes in exchange for investments in funds that support small businesses and housing projects in low-income areas. He also mentioned increased support for apprenticeship programs to better connect people with higher paying jobs.

Scott focused his time on raising the minimum wage and cited the importance of infrastructure investments. He also said more needs to be done to address crippling student debt and health care costs, which can delay housing investments for many people. New tariffs also are increasing material costs, which makes it harder to build more affordable projects, he said.

3. Regarding the Fed, the candidates were asked whether the Fed should be held more accountable for the outcomes of its decisions to raise interest rates. President Trump has been critical of the Fed’s policy to raise rates.

Scott and King said they think the Fed is a doing a good job of managing interest rates as the economy has stabilized.

The Republicans argued for more government accountability. Perry went as far as to say he believes the Fed should be audited. He also said he believes recent rate hikes have been holding back a growing economy under President Trump.

But the recent tax cuts also have boosted government spending this year, which has led to a rising federal deficit that may approach $1 trillion next year. Both Perry and Smucker agreed that more needs to be done to improve budget accountability to curb spending, but they defended the tax cuts as the best way to get the economy moving.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent in the second quarter, the fastest pace in nearly four years.

While the Republicans feel the economy is working better for everyone, citing low unemployment and GDP growth, King and Scott said it still largely favors the wealthy. Many middle class working people are still suffering, they said.

The general election is Nov. 6.  

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